OCEAN CITY – Though there was no government meeting this week, the extreme philosophical differences among the seven City Council members continue to dominate Ocean City politics.
Over the past few months, the Mayor and Council has been divided over a list of 11 ordinances that would decrease newly hired town employee’s pay and benefits and address some changes for current workers as well.
The majority of the council, Joe Hall, Brent Ashley, Jim Hall, and Margaret Pillas, set the motions on the table and voted to pass them through first and second reading.
The minority of the council, Doug Cymek, Mary Knight and Lloyd Martin, have fell in opposition, feeling the ordinances were being pushed too fast into law without facts and discussion to back them up.
Last week, Mayor Rick Meehan vetoed seven of the 11 proposed ordinances to remand them back to discussion, which will likely take place next week.
“My position along with my other three colleagues [Joe Hall, Brent Ashley and Jim Hall] is we would always get the numbers we needed as a starter for discussion,” Pillas said.
According to Pillas, a couple years ago she is on record asking for an actuary study in order to begin the process of cutting city costs. She said that for the last two years herself, Joe Hall, and Jim Hall have been pushing for these discussions and now the council has finally gotten to them.
“This is not a knee-jerk reaction,” she said. “This was just a decision for us to push this forward so we could get to these discussions and now we’re there. What will work out is exactly the solution we need to hire new people and I think it will work well.”
The Dispatch asked Pillas what would have happened if the proposed ordinances were to pass into law without the council receiving the actuary study.
“We would still go and ask for a study, it was our plan all along,” she said.
According to Pillas, an actuary study is necessary in making decisions, such as changing town employee pay and benefits for new hires.
“The plan is to get numbers,” she said. “I asked for salaries and all benefits two years ago, an actuary study, and we couldn’t get it.”
Pillas said by placing the 11 motions on the table, the majority of the council was able to get the actuary study expedited.
“The mere fact that the mayor vetoed them or not, did not change the plan,” Pillas said. “We had direction from our voters, and the people in town, to go in this direction and get the numbers.”
According to Pillas, the council needs to come to terms on what new hires will be paid and what their benefits will be.
“Will they be what the ordinances are stating?,” she said. “They were never meant to be. They were always a starting point for us to have a discussion.”
Pillas does not agree with the minority’s expression of “ram rodding”.
“I have been ringing the bell for two years,” she said. “I never saw it as any different. I know everybody went crazy … that it was rammed down everybody’s throat but I don’t see it that way, I don’t think two years of discussion is ramming anything.”
Councilman Brent Ashley said the mayor’s vetoes give the council the opportunity to return to discussion, which the majority of council expected was going to happen all along.
“He [mayor] had indicated all along that he didn’t like certain things in the ordinances,” Ashley said. “Our feelings were he was going to veto some of them.”
Ashley said that the whole idea behind the proposed ordinances was to get the council talking about a decrease in town employee pay and benefits.
“A couple of the council members have been trying to get the administration to talk about these issues for several years, and they have had a difficult time doing it, so now everybody’s talking and it’s a good thing,” Ashley said.
Ashley feels it is a goal amongst the council to find a common ground.
“We’re trying to be more fiscally responsible in the future,” Ashley said. “We are all appreciative of the town employees and we want to make sure that they are secure.”
Councilman Joe Hall said he’s looking forward to extended discussion on the ordinances on the table.
“I personally felt that if he had not vetoed the ordinances and allowed us to move forward we would be having the discussions and ultimately the same outcome,” Joe Hall said.
Joe Hall concurred in the thought that it was the goal of the majority to receive the actuary study in order to conclude on the proposed ordinances.
“We will adjust to the vetoes and allow for the discussions to happen so that all the information is obtained,” he said. “So that we move forward with the best possible pay and benefits plan for our employees, residents and taxpayers of Ocean City.”
Joe Hall referred to the mayor’s veto as a “bump in the road”.
“But it’s a bump that we will overcome,” he said. “And in the end I think the determination of the majority will continue to move forward towards a good outcome.”
Joe Hall explained that even though the majority of the council had voted the ordinances through second reading in a continuous 4-3 vote, they were still going to discuss them further before written into law.
“It’s just the mayor strongly believed we should have discussion first,” he said. “The majority of the council felt that the ordinances needed to be there to have staff respond better and quicker.”
Though the mayor does not agree with the majority of the council, he has still acknowledged the fact that there needs to be changes made, Joe Hall said.
“The majority of the council believes that there should be more of discussion but action,” he said. “But I believe that in the end we will get action and hopefully the mayor is correct in the way he went forward that we can come to terms and settle down over all the anxiety and move forward with the business of Ocean City.”
Councilman Doug Cymek is concerned by how the majority of council has conducted business throughout the entire process.
“What bothers me the most…is they had the audacity to form these ordinances and try to move things through without any knowledge,” Cymek said. “When this all plays out, I think the taxpayers and voters will figure out there was no forethought on their [majority] part, no investigation.”
Cymek has referred to the majority of the council as irresponsible and he said he stands by that comment.
“They still don’t have the answers,” Cymek said.
In response to the majority’s comments of how their actions have been in attempt to begin discussions, Cymek argued that they have had the opportunity for discussion as the ordinances were being passed through first and second reading.
“Why didn’t they discuss it publicly?” Cymek asked. “I think that’s what excited the public when they were just doing things without any obvious knowledge.”
Cymek said that the majority of council has resisted answering any questions provided by the minority of the council.
“They won’t answer any questions from us and I maintain that they don’t know the answers,” he said.
As further discussion on the vetoed ordinances occur, Cymek said he is going to continue to insist on public discussions, rather than private talks, which he suspects the majority of the council are taking part in.
“Some of these members for whatever reason have chosen to discuss these things out of the public’s eye and I don’t think that’s appropriate,” he said.
Councilwoman Mary Knight said the majority had the opportunity to discuss the proposed ordinances in the past.
“On Nov. 30 when the 11 motions were made and they were accepted 4-3 [vote]…Lloyd, Doug, and I asked for additional information before they went ahead with it.” Knight said.
Knight also referred to the ordinances in first and second reading, when the mayor asked for the motions to be tabled and further discussed. But the majority of the council passed the ordinances through in a 4-3 vote, against his request.
Knight disagrees with Pillas in that the council has not been provided with actuarial information in the past two years. She said that she found an actuary study in her records from when the council had decided to add additional funds into the retiree health benefit.
“I remember things a little differently and I tend to disagree with that,” Knight said. “I know it’s not the way I would have preceded because it causes so much controversy. Why cause so much controversy when you can accomplish anything through thoughtful work sessions?”